guest author LOREN BLACKWOOD
The POWER OF MENDING
Orsola de Castro encourages us to love our clothes. With resolve, she proclaims, “You will mend them, not throw them,” says the co-founder of Fashion Revolution, a non-profit supporting industry reform. Her latest book, Loved Clothes Last, proposes revolution by re-wearing and repairing clothes. The author reminds us that “nothing is created, nor destroyed, everything is transformed.” This simple act can help deal with overconsumption, fashion waste, and ultimately, reducing greenhouse gases produced from fashion production.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reported over 73% of the 53 million tons of textiles produced globally every year are discarded. One way to reduce a Carbon Footprint is through repair. By keeping clothes in use by mending and not disposing of them, we can sidestep the carbon compounds emitted from new apparel production or a landfill. Many brands offer in-house repair for those who do not have time or a desire to sew or mend. In a mission to keep things in use a little longer, some companies take their repair stations on the road.
Since 2017, Patagonia’s Worn Wear Program repairs and recycles clothing through the website or directly from their traveling repair truck. Recently, in 2020, their “Tour-de-Tear” roving seamsters made stops throughout Europe and the US. These to-go tailors spread goodwill and repair, all free of charge. Alternatively, online customers traded functioning garments or gear for credit or shopped their catalog for Trade-In or Recrafted clothes, made from other clothes.
BORO AND SASHIKO
Boro refers to the art of visible mending with scrap fabric, demonstrating the concept of “Wabi-Sabi,” or appreciating an object’s impermanence and imperfection. This art of Japanese textile repair, developed hundreds of years ago by working-class people, was born from a desire to extend the usefulness of fabric through patchwork and stitching.
The small and even stitching used for a Boro piece is called Sashiko. Imperfections are intentionally left frayed to add to the aesthetic. This folk art, developed during the 17th century Edo period, extended the use of textiles made from cotton, linen, or hemp fabrics harvested, spun, and dyed by hand. The embroidery-like stitches add texture and strength while embellishing everyday items.
The Japanese value, “Mottainai,” translates to, waste nothing by seeing the value in everything. The act of Sashiko requires being in the moment, as a long sharp threaded needle passes through layers of fabric, leaving a trail of tiny even stitches. This restoration method offers a connection with our belongings and an opportunity to rethink our relationship to what makes clothing meaningful. Understanding this relationship puts us in the driver's seat.
A FASHION BOOM, MUSHROOMS
Stella McCartney commits to innovation and decreasing the company’s Carbon Footprint by teasing a new sustainable non-leather textile. The first luxury fashion brand not to utilize animal hides, feathers, or fur, worked with Bolt Threads to produce Mylo, a vegan leather. This plant-based fabric does not utilize petroleum or harmful chemicals for production, found in leather or pleather manufacturing processes. McCartney has used Bolt Threads’ trademarked Mylo fabric for two garments, black bustier top and utilitarian trousers.
By the end of this year, the French fashion house, Hermès, plans to release a prototype mushroomed bag developed by MycoWorks. Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès, a company whose reputation stands on making products from the finest materials, recalls his grandfather telling him, “Luxury is that which you can repair.”
Donating clothes forestalls an early “End of Life,” the term used in the apparel industry designating the end of clothing’s useful lifespan. Orsola de Castro reminds us that “nothing is created, nor destroyed, everything is transformed.” Before disposing of, consider the secondhand market. We can revolutionize how and what we consume by donating, selling, or recycling obsolete clothing. The top resale clothing sites, Poshmark, Depop, thredUP, and The RealReal, saw record growth over the last year. In March, thredUP, described as the most trusted online marketplace for used clothing, went Public entering Nasdaq 30% above the IPO price. As we consider how to enjoy fashion trends more responsibly, choosing used instead of new is one of the easiest ways to participate.
“The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.”
Gill Scott - Heron
Loren Blackwood studies Fashion Design at Orange Coast College. She earned her Bachelor's Degree in Art History from the University of California at Irvine. She interns at the Huntington Beach Art Center.
IMPROVING ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL IMPACTS OF THE APPAREL INDUSTRY
Social, environmental, and economic issues increasingly challenge the $1.5 trillion apparel and footwear industry. As we navigate last years’ unexplored waters of industry disruption, a balance of pragmatic and innovative developments within the business of fashion persists. The industry, over two centuries old, turned on its head, refocuses the linear model of the take-make-waste model to a circular means of production.
Appointed by the United Nations, the Brundtland Commission, defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations' ability to meet their own needs,” becomes profoundly relevant today.
John Elkington’s interpretation of this perspective is often referred to as the triple bottom line (TBL or 3BL) or the 3P’s, where economic profit is considered equivalent to environmental and social impact. A systematic change delivered through collaboration with the Fashion Industry may be a key to progress.
Financial performance goals such as sales growth and shareholder value have historically been the primary focus of retailers. The 3P’s integrates environmental and social initiatives with profit and sales growth goals. Astute retailers and customers see these initiates as complementary rather than competing goals.
The founders of Patagonia Company believe that no economic activity is yet sustainable and define their mission as responsible. Responsible initiatives address increasing employee living wages, providing safe working conditions, along with environmental stewardship. Included in these initiatives are considerations for local communities and society at large to reflect a broadening definition of a responsible business.
DO LESS HARM
Twenty-five years ago, Patagonia initiated a green corporate governance trend by donating 1% of sales to environmental causes. The outdoor clothing company’s vision to “produce no unnecessary environmental harm and have a positive impact on the stakeholders; people and communities associated with its activities” consistently funneled its eco-sense and anti-corporate ethos into a successful clothing business.
In a call to action, Patagonia and Walmart formed the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, SAC, and the Higg Index, an industry-wide self-assessment tool. The apparel manufacturing giants shaped an unlikely collaboration responding to environmental and social concerns. In a joint effort, they invited other brands, retailers, and manufacturers across the globe, along with NGOs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and academic institutions.
The Higg Index, launched in 2012, measures environmental and social impacts across a product’s entire life cycle from raw materials to end-of-life disposal. As a powerful cooperative group, SAC can accelerate improvement through its open-source index to understand that reducing harm must be collective.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Business candor builds legitimacy and creates additional incentives for action and innovation. The shared growth of ethically produced and earth-safe style provides the footing for an upsurge in consumer markets.
These efforts sparked by social and environmental online publications (free) such as - “Who Made My Clothes" by Fashion Revolution, "Detox My Fashion" by Greenpeace, and "Make Fashion Circular" by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, called on influential brands to redesign fashion’s future. “Who made my clothes?” Fashion Revolution asks, consumers now want to know.
“Good On You” became a leading trusted source for sustainable fashion brand ratings. Their popular concept drove millions of consumers worldwide to consult with their free app as they shop for ethical and sustainable brands.
A CIRCULAR ADVANTAGE
As suppliers closed during the pandemic, enlightened manufacturers responded to textile demand by seeking materials on hand. Fashion designers already tuned into environmental responsibility, dipped into the vast archives of textiles called “Dead Stock,” from past seasons or existing clothes to create next season’s circular looks.
Circularity offers a competitive advantage through repair, refurbishment, or reuse of materials not quite ready for retirement. An overabundance of clothing and textiles, only worn a few times, too often meets an early grave in landfills and can take up to 200 years to decompose while emitting GHGS such as methane.
Nature does not create waste for itself; every output becomes nourishment for the next. Our future's fate will not come automatically; judging from the trajectory, it has to be cultivated like a cherished garden, tended, not ignored. Now we can test our commitment to the environment and all living creatures in an opportunity to prove that circularity is not just academic.
The resale and second-hand market continue to grow as consumers reevaluate their relationship with their clothes. The pandemic led to a surge of DIY tutorials educating consumers on sewing, upcycling and repairing goods to increase longevity. Initiatives such as Levi’s Buy-Back scheme, Gucci's partnership with The RealReal, Eileen Fisher’s RENEW, and Madewell's take-back programs encourage consumer participation in circular commerce.
Rethinking some of the most basic principles on which we do business takes a hard look at what we produce and consume. The complexity of human behavior and the fundamental nature of fashion inadvertently overlooks the ethics and environmental consequences of what we buy. Reconfiguring how we function within nature’s limits begins by addressing consumption and excess. No circular economy or fashion brand initiative can unhinge our connection to over consumption patterns and subsequent waste without our participation.
Innovation and creativity to make the fashion industry evolve to our environments inherent needs involve significant technical and commercial challenges. Shifting to such a model to satisfy today's requirements without undermining tomorrow's viability will bring greater accountability as we reconsider priorities.
Loren Blackwood is a guest writer at Huntington Beach Art Center. She is the photographer and illustrator of the images in this blog. She is studying Fashion Design at Orange Coast College and interning at HBAC.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
guest authored by Loren Blackwood
Answering the base needs of self-expression and protection from the elements on the human form, the Judith Hendler Cocoon Cloak design competition is inspired by traditional multi-functional garments like the Caftan, Tunic, and Poncho.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The early Greek chitons, simple in construction, used two rectangle pieces of fabric; the top edge was folded away from the body, forming a flap and secured with brooches.
For thousands of years, swayed by culture and climate, societies adopted silk, wool, and cotton versions of the caftan. The sultans of the Ottoman Empire wore silk and cotton caftans embellished with gold and silver thread. The cloth often extended to the wrists, cascading full length to the ankles.
Depicted in ancient Persian art, the kaftan, a popular go-to look becomes an all-encompassing term in fashion for spacious garments. Like the traditional garments of Mexico, huipils or poncho, flowing fabric covers the body, with openings for the head and arms. The kaftan saw a resurgence in the late 1960s – ‘70s with Bohemian chic arrived in London by designer, Thea Porter. Raised in Damascus and surrounded by lavish textiles from North Africa and the Middle East, Ms. Porter created era-defining styles for the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jane Fonda, and Elizabeth Taylor. Her unique aesthetic promoted by Vogue Editor-in-chief, Diana Vreeland through the pages of Vogue magazine.
Mid-century “Fearless Fashion” designer Rudi Gernreich created body-liberating, unisex clothing. Gernreich's designs could be worn interchangeably by men or women. As an early civil rights activist, the designer defied the gender status quo.
IN THE WORLD TODAY
Traditional Senegalese kaftans, also known as Boubou, are made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and silk. They are worn throughout arid Western Africa and similar warm climates.
An over-the-head, draped garment with wide sleeves, bright Boubou textiles are imbued with prints and embroidery having symbolic meaning. Senegalese kaftan fabric is about sixty inches wide and varies in length. The textile is folded in half and marked for an opening for the head. The side seams are stitched about halfway making roomy sleeves.
COCOON CLOAK CALL FOR DESIGNERS
Judith Hendler invites community college Fashion Design students and HBAC members to create the unisex COCOON CLOAK. Use sustainable design techniques and materials to define self-expression and protection as it means to you. The age-old garment design is a blank canvas for your inspiration.
My name is Loren Blackwood, I am passionate about art, fashion design and nature. I have channeled this focus into a bachelor’s degree in Art History from University of California Irvine and the study of Fashion Design and Sustainability in the Apparel Industry from Orange Coast College. Now in my last semester at O.C.C., I have joined the team at the Huntington Beach Arts Center as a student intern. I am thrilled to be a part of this community arts and cultural center serving Huntington Beach and the Southern California region since 1995.
“Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm, come in, she said, I’ll give ya shelter from the storm.” - Bob Dylan “Shelter from the Storm”